EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln:  A Man of Faith and Courage by Joe Wheeler (Howard Books).

Click here for a chance to win a free copy of
Abraham Lincoln.

Chapter One

Biographies, as generally written, are not only misleading, but false. The author makes a wonderful hero of his subject. He magnifies his perfections, if he has any, and suppresses his imperfections. History is not history unless it is the truth.

—Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was permitted to live only fifty-six years. Yet had he been given the opportunity to choose any fifty-six-year period from the thousands of years of recorded history, chances are he’d have chosen 1809 to 1865. These were quite possibly the fifty-six most exciting years our world has ever known.

As we set out to examine Abraham Lincoln’s life, it might be helpful to take a quick look at the world in which he lived and made such a lasting impact.

The Industrial Revolution

Lincoln was born at the intersection of two ages:  the colonial and the industrial. The old ways were dying out and were being replaced by newfangled inventions and mysterious automated processes.

For thousands of years the fastest form of land transportation had been the horse. In 1858, land travel’s last hurrah was the overland stage. What an experience it must have been to have boarded that great Concord stagecoach with its gleaming metal and wood accoutrements. At the head of the coach, restlessly snorting their eagerness to hit the roads, were six magnificent horses. When the driver snapped his whip, the stage leaped into motion. As the horses galloped out of St. Louis, hundreds of bystanders enviously watched it streak by. “Would you believe,” one of them said in wonder, “that only twenty days from now those folk will step down onto the streets of Los Angeles in California, 2,600 miles away!”

“’That the most direct way there is?” his neighbor might have asked.

“Nope. But it’s the only one that’ll get them there in twenty days without being scalped by Indians on the warpath.”

In those days, getting mail across vast distances was always a problem. In 1860, William Russell and Alexander Majors bankrolled and organized the Pony Express. Their intrepid riders raced across the country from St. Louis, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, changing horses 119 times along the way—that was, if Indians hadn’t attacked the stations before they got there. In spite of all obstacles, including blistering heat, sandstorms, ice storms, snowstorms, rainstorms, and Indian attacks, those courageous riders still averaged an almost unbelievable twelve miles an hour.

Then there was travel by sea. For millenia the fastest means of sea travel was the sailing ship. In the middle of the nineteenth century, as always, there were but two alternatives:  oars and sails, neither of which resulted in much speed.

It’s doubtful that a more beautiful sailing ship was ever constructed than that legendary windjammer the Flying Cloud. She sailed from Boston clear around Cape Horn, on the southern tip of South America, to come up to the coast of California. Travelers wanting to get from Boston to California overland were faced with a long wagon-train ride that was iffy at best and ran the risk of attack by marauding Indians. Ship travel, then, dangerous as the storms might be, offered more favorable odds. Still, it was a 19,000-mile-long voyage (only 5,000 miles shorter than traveling clear around the world). Even so, in 1854, the Flying Cloud broke the time record by making the voyage in eighty-nine days and eight hours.